Advertisements

One of the most peculiar features of modern liberalism is its tendency to romanticize self-proclaimed enemies abroad while vilifying anyone with a dissenting opinion at home. The dark-hued fellow swinging a scimitar over his turbaned head while chanting “death to the infidels” is to be engaged as an authentic expression of righteous post-colonial rage, while the pale Baptist who has been living peaceably down the street the past many decades is to be regarded as a dangerous religious fanatic, and the antiquated economic customs of the most impoverished third world hellholes are celebrated for their ancient wisdom while any talk of capitalism or fiscal restraint are derided as heartless extremism in any country made wealthy by these principles.
This odd bias has been on bold display lately in two separate stories that have been prominent in the news. President Barack Obama has proudly announced that he will not deign to negotiate on the debt ceiling with the congressional Republicans, whom the president’s spokesman has likened to terrorists, but almost simultaneously he has just as proudly announced his eagerness to enter negotiations with the leaders of Iran, who actually are terrorists.. Aside from the strikingly odd prejudices involved, neither decision is likely to lead to a good result.
By refusing to negotiate with the Republicans who are quite non-violently exercising their constitutionally approved prerogative to spend the public’s funds and limit its debt, Obama is not only ensuring the government shutdown that he has issued the most dire warnings but also risking the wrath of the public which he has seemingly plotted to bring down on his adversaries. There is sufficient public indignation over the Obamacare law that the Republicans have reasonably calculated they can fight it even to a point that it shuts down much of the government for an extended period of time, and if they are correct in their calculations they can throw yet another monkey wrench into the already gummed-up works of the president’s signature legislation without harm to their chances in the upcoming mid-term elections. The president’s loudly stated refusal to even consider a compromise can only help the Republicans’ efforts, and precludes the possibility of any deal that might bolster his own faltering standing with the public. If the president’s pride did not override his political instincts, he could even accept the Republicans’ gift of a one-year delay on Obamacare’s widely hated individual mandate that would buy time for his befuddled bureaucracy to try and get things right while putting off the disastrous results of the policy past the next election cycle.
No such favorable outcomes can be expected from the negotiations with Iran over its ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran’s recently-elected figurehead president Hassan Rouhani is touted as a “moderate” in much of the press, but nothing in his long record suggests that he isn’t a hard-line Islamist and much of his career has been spent facilitating his country’s nuclear weapons by distracting a gullible western diplomatic corps with his endless talk and empty promises. After Obama’s bungling of the Syrian crisis into the willing hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a nonchalant United Nations Security Council, the wily Rouhani is likely to prove a far more formidable negotiator than in anyone the Republicans have in Congress. The red lines that Obama draws against murderous dictators have proved more impermanent than the ones he draws against the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, and Rouhani has certainly noticed.
Figurative terrorists are always more frightening to the modern liberal than literal ones, however, and the results don’t seem to matter.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Who’s Afraid of a Government Shutdown?

There’s been talk lately that the federal government might shut down, due to Obamacare or the debt ceiling or a convoluted combination of the two, and some people seem worried about it. Some people will always worry about such things, we suppose, but it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.
The government has shut down too many times to keep track of, including a sizeable number of federal holidays and almost every weekend of the year, and if not for all the furor in the press it would almost always have gone unnoticed. All the stories invariably involve families that are disappointed to find a national park closed while on their vacations, which seems a minor inconvenience at a time when all the kids should be in school, or horror stories about old folks starving in the streets for want of a Social Security check, which never seems to actually occur, and most readers remain unconvinced that there’s a real problem. The stock markets typically take a slight temporary dive, although that might be for fear the federal government will eventually return to work, but otherwise the economy stumbles along in its usual way. All the cops and firemen and other useful public servants are still on the job, drawing paychecks from state and local governments that some how manage to stay in business throughout the year, and all of the “nonessential” personnel who are furloughed for the duration prove as nonessential as advertised.
President Barack Obama is warning that a government shutdown will mean the nation’s bills go unpaid and America will be a “deadbeat” and a “banana republic,” with economic catastrophe following from the international doubt about the full faith and credit of the country, but we suspect this is only because the old saws about national park closings and unsent Social Security checks have lost their scariness. He also talks about those crazy spendthrift Republicans have been running up a huge tab against his frugal counsel and now want to “run out on the bill,” as if he hasn’t fought against their effort to restrain spending, and has offered the preposterous claim that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t mean the country will go further into debt, making the president sound rather desperate for something to say. Thus far even the supposedly anarchist wing of the Republican party has been willing to pay for all the government anyone might want except for Obamacare, and they’ll surely cave on that one sensible demand before they allow the government to default on its obligations to bondholders, so the economic catastrophe will have to await the all-too-soon date when the government debt has grown so large that the bondholders stop buying and the Fed is forced to concede that it can’t keep printing up money to pay them.
The people who are most worried about a government shutdown seem to be politicians worried mostly about who get the blame if anything noticeably bad actually does happen. Many Republicans, especially the ones with a professional stake in the party’s political fortunes, are understandably concerned that the traditional media outrage will once again bring the electorate’s wrath down upon in the upcoming mid-term elections and hand complete political control to Democratic party hell-bent on the same sort of mischief they inflicted on the country in the first two years of Obama’s reign. The Democrats, on the other hand, fear a government shutdown because it once again might have no noticeable effect and thus remind the country that it really doesn’t need to pay them so much money to run the meddlesome behemoth.
With neither party gaining any advantage from a prolonged government shutdown, it’s not likely to happen. Preventing it will mean Obamacare and another trillion or so of federal debt, both of which are far more disastrous than a government shutdown, but at least the full faith and credit of the country will be restored and banana republic status delayed for another year or so. That should get us past the mid-terms, and that’s all that anybody is really worried about.

— Bud Norman

Former president Bill Clinton, who currently serves in the unofficial capacity of the current president’s “secretary in charge of explaining stuff,” has lately taken on the difficult chore of explaining Obamacare. In recent speeches and interviews he seemed to be trying to explain how the health care reform law will work so wonderfully that everyone will eventually learn to love it, an impossibly difficult chore even for a charlatan of Clinton’s talents, but he wound up explaining why it won’t work at all.
You’d be hard-pressed to find the fatal flaw in the networks’ coverage of Clinton’s much-ballyhooed joint appearance with President Barack Obama, which was devoted mostly to a star-struck awe at the assembled celebrity and much chuckling at Hillary’s joshing introduction and the obligatory recitations of Obama’s “secretary in charge of explaining stuff” honorific. All the top reporters described Clinton’s defense of Obamacare as “detailed,” but they provided few of those details. Although there was some vague acknowledgement that Clinton described a few piddly problems with the law to prove his objectivity and principled partisanship, only the conservative press was gauche enough to mention that Clinton conceded “This only works, for example, if young people show up.”
Anyone with first-hand experience of today’s young people will immediately be alarmed that the success of such an ambitious and expensive program as Obamacare is contingent upon them showing up. Just try getting a timely cup of coffee from the tattooed twenty-something at your local bohemian haunt and you’ll note that their attendance record is spotty at best. When they do show up they’re usually distracted from the matters at hand by some illegibly abbreviated text message, or the monotonous pop music of the moment piped by earphones into their shaggy heads, and even at their most attentive they don’t seem the sorts of people you would want to base the success of a major federal initiative upon.
Worse yet, Clinton expects young people to not only show up but also to shell out significant sums of money for something they don’t want and likely won’t need. “We’ve got to have them in the pools,” Clinton said, “because otherwise all these projected low costs cannot be held if older people with preexisting conditions are disproportionately represented in any given state.” A more frank, and therefore less Clintonian, way of putting it is that Obamacare depends on healthy young people paying premiums for insurance they won’t use in order to pay for a hip replacement on some geezer they’ve never met and probably wouldn’t like. Young people can be quite sincere about social justice when it means that wealth is redistributed to them, but Clinton is seriously overestimating youthful idealism if he expects the youth of today to go along with this plan.
There’s a much-hated “individual mandate” in Obamacare that compels buying insurance, which will be even more hated when the young people are forced to look at the bill in between texts, but for the next several years the fines will be cheaper than the insurance and thus seem a better deal to a typical teenager or twenty-something. The average healthy young person might be persuaded that a low-cost policy insuring against automobile wrecks or out-of-the-blue diseases is worth buying, but such arrangements are now illegal. Lacking any legal or economic rationale for buying any of the restricted number of plans available under Obamacare, the only reason young people have for buying in is to show support for the president who is sticking them with a sizeable health care bill.
Any sore feelings among Obama’s young supporters will supposedly be soothed by the all the subsidies that are going to be offered, but those costs will fall on the taxpayers or the national debt that young folks will be expected to eventually pay and it won’t make Obamacare economically viable. The costs that Obamacare imposes on employers also make it less likely that young people will ever get a job that pays well enough or for enough hours to pay the health care costs, making it more likely that they’ll take the subsidies and send the costs to already overburdened or taxpayers or pay it off themselves later when the debt at last comes due. Many young people will simply stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old, another big selling point of the Obamacare law, but only in the increasingly unlikely event their parents get to keep their jobs or their employers continue to provide insurance.
There’s still a faint hope that those crazed fringe Republicans can withhold the money for Obamacare, but there’s no chance at all the law will work as promised. Even Bill Clinton tells us so.

— Bud Norman

A Long, Long Cruze

Sen. Ted Cruz is still talking as we write this, and might yet be talking as you read this. We’re still not clear on what he hopes to accomplish, other than expressing his full contempt for Obamacare, but we admire the effort nonetheless.
The rules of the Senate are so confoundingly arcane that nobody has offered an understandable explanation of what advantage, if any, Cruz will achieve by his night-long harangue against the hated health care law. He apparently will not delay a vote on a House bill to fund everything in the government except Obamacare, meaning that in the strictest sense it is not even a filibuster, and nothing he can say even in hours of oratory is liking to change enough minds to prevent the Democrat-controlled Senate from rejecting this sensible proposal. His lengthy speech has even annoyed some of his fellow Republicans, still skittish about the inevitable stalemate that could temporarily shut down much of the government and bring the public’s wrath onto the party, and much of the news coverage has been sneering.
Still, anyone who goes to such extraordinary lengths to express his full contempt for Obamacare deserves congratulations and support. No matter how long his voice and legs hold out Cruz will not speak long enough to mention everything that is wrong Obamacare, and even if it’s nothing more than a publicity gimmick it is bringing valuable attention to a worthy cause. Those Republicans who are trying to dent the Senator’s rising popularity with the party’s conservative base are unlikely to succeed, and will only undermine the unity required to ultimately repeal a law that they also claim to oppose.

— Bud Norman

In the Mean Times

We can be quite scathing in our criticisms at this publication, but we always strive to do so with a certain literary subtlety and a proper respect for decorum and the bounds of reasonable discourse. By temperament and policy we forbid foul language, ad hominem arguments, or the snide sort of punning nicknames typical of schoolyard taunts, and in no circumstances will we ever wish a slow and painful death on any person’s children.
That last prohibition seems the least one can do, but these days even that modicum of civility is becoming distressingly rarer. A seething hatred that hopes for the death of political opponents’ children, and is not embarrassed to publicly express itself, is now commonplace. Three typical examples have recently appeared in the news, and although we are heartened that such vitriol is still considered newsworthy each of the stories illustrate that this murderous tendency has gone beyond the comment sections of the more fevered internet sites and into the mainstream of politics and academia.
One story concerns the Sacramento Democratic Party’s communications chairman, of all people, who responded to a “Tweet” advocating the de-funding of Obamacare by writing on his own “Twitter” account: “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.” The author of this witty riposte is not only a paid spokesman for the Democrats in the capital of the nation’s most populous state, he’s also a self-described “communications pro” who has a web site named “It Matters How You Say It.” He eventually apologized for his outburst, but only after a series of even more vulgar responses to his critics and a fair amount of public pressure on his employer, and has since been forced to resign from his party post.
Similarly hateful invective is being hurled from the ivory of towers of academia, of course. Another story concerns a prominent fundraiser for the University of California-San Francisco who “tweeted” her desire that all “Obamacare nonbelievers” be denied healthcare. She cheekily added “Let them eat their McDonalds,” which can be interpreted as a death wish as well as the usual San Francisco culinary snobbery. Sarah Palin earned much ridicule and scorn by fretting about the existence of politically-motivated death panels in Obamacare, but openly advocating for them apparently earns a nice job in California’s higher education system.
Yet another story involves a journalism professor at the University of Kansas, who took to the “tweets” after the mass murder at Washington’s Navy Yard to say “The blood is on the hands of the NRA. Next time, let is be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Simultaneously mean-spirited and self-righteous, the “tweet” has attracted much attention in the Kansas media, even if many of them have politely declined to mention the professor’s desire for the murder of young children and instead explain the controversy in terms of an “anti-NRA” argument, and has become a popular topic of conversation in the state. Even with such friendly reportage, presumably from past students still grateful for an easy “A” in his courses, the outburst has sparked enough outrage among the gun-loving Kansans who pay his salary that the professor has been suspended. Academic freedom advocates have rushed to defend his right to be a simple-minded boor with no respect for the freedoms of others, and they might well have a point, but surely he can be relieved of his duties at a journalism school named for the great Republican writer and editor William Allen White because he uses ALL CAPITAL LETTERS like some deranged internet troll.
The same sense of anonymity and invulnerability that drives the average deranged internet poll is no doubt responsible for these harangues by supposedly respectable people, and a popular culture that is constantly blaring out profane boasts and violent threats over a thudding hip-hop or heavy metal beat probably has something to do with it, but we suspect the serious nature of the current political controversies is the primary reason. Democrats will have plenty of examples of similar hatefulness coming from their ideological opposites, but it’s far more common and widely accepted among their own party. All of the political power achieved by the left does not seem to have placated it, and the embarrassing results of their power seem to have left them downright snippy.
The more polished Democratic politicians still refrain from violent fantasies about their opponents’ children, at least in public, but even the most prominent among them are now prone to incendiary insults. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has recently described the “tea party” legislators attempting to limit the debt and de-fund Obamacare as “anarchists” and “fanatics.” It’s nice to know that “anarchist” is still a term of opprobrium in Democratic circles, given their longtime indulgence of the black-masked thugs going by that name who terrorized the past several international economic summits, but the insult does not bode well for any bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. At the very highest levels of the Democratic party the president routinely tells audiences that his opposition is motivated by the desire to cause the poor and sick to suffer while making the environment uninhabitable, and it invariably gets a big hand from the hand-picked crowds of true believers. With such mean rhetoric coming from the leaders, it’s not surprising that the followers would start hoping for the death of sons and daughters.
It would be nice to see a more cordial discourse, and not just because it would return the debate to matters of fact of logic and undeniable results which the Democrats would prefer to avoid. Such hateful talk is not good for those Democrats’ impressionable young children, and we wish those little whippersnappers nothing but the best.

— Bud Norman

Messing With the President

In case you’ve just tuned into the latest Washington soap opera, and are wondering why the Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to withhold funding for Obamacare even if it leads to a prolonged government shutdown that poses all sorts of political risks for the party, President Barack Obama has offered an explanation. Speaking to a crowd of adorers in Liberty, Missouri, on Friday, Obama said of the Republicans that “They’re not focused on you. They’re focused on politics. They’re focused on messing with me.”
Another explanation would be that the Republicans genuinely loathe Obamacare because of its budget-busting costs, job-killing mandates, bureaucratic inefficiencies, inevitable cronyism and corruption, intrusions into the people’s most private matters, and assorted other problems which are becoming clearer with each step of its implementation, but one can readily understand why Obama would prefer to think that it’s all about him. Harder to understand is how the Republican opposition to Obamacare could be effective politics if it were not focused on the people who overwhelmingly share their disdain or the law, or why Obama is in such a grouchy mood if it’s not effective politics, but he’s no doubt confident that no one will ever get within shouting to distance who would ask such impertinent questions.
In the upcoming public relations battle over Obamacare the Democrats will have a large government-funded propaganda campaign, the constant help of much of the still-powerful media, an army of unthinkingly loyal activists, and of course the presidential bully pulpit, but thus far they are conspicuously lacking in persuasive arguments. The president continues to make all the old promises about health insurance premiums going down and everyone keeping their existing coverage, but even his most faithful fans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line on the bills that come that do or the regretful explanations of their employers who have cancelled longtime benefit packages. The millions of Americans who can find only part-time work will be assured that Obamacare’s requirement that full-time jobs entail costly and time-consuming health care compensation has nothing to do with it, but more and more people are now hearing otherwise from the people doing the hiring. The president is fond of pointing out that although health care costs continue to rise they are doing so at a slower rate, but when the Republicans get a quote or two in the story for the sake of balance they can point out that the rise started slowing back in ’06 when Obama was still voting “present” as an Illinois state senator.
There’s always the Obamacare provision that allows the young folk to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, which is said to be popular, but certainly some percentage of those aging dependents would prefer a full-time job and their own health care plan. Expect to hear a lot about Obamacare’s mandate that insurers cannot deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, which sounds very compassionate and continues to poll well, but the public seems to have figured out that there’s a lot more in that 2,000 page law and the gazillions of pages of resulting regulations than just that.
Nor is it likely to be persuasive if Obama makes it all about himself. There are still some true believers out there who will rally round their president no matter the cause, and have plenty of time to do so between unemployment checks, but after the National Security Agency’s snooping and saber-rattling at Syria and the general lack of hope and change that the administration has generated the numbers seem to be dwindling. As much as some people might still love the president, many would prefer to have a full-time job and are beginning to understand that Obamacare makes it harder to get one. For those less enamored of the president from outset his petty and petulant tone will only exacerbate their dislike and stiffen their resistance as the battle gets uglier.
Republicans aren’t opposing Obamacare just to mess with the president, but if it gets him so obviously annoyed that’s an added bonus.

— Bud Norman

Going to the Mattresses

The Republicans in House of Representatives have decided to go to the mattresses over Obamacare, to borrow yet another cliché from the “Godfather” movies, and will likely vote today to withhold funding for the hated health care law no matter what the consequences. We wish them well in the effort, and offer whatever support we can provide, but we can’t quite shake a certain nervousness about it.
Even such slight hesitation will no doubt incur the scorn of all the right-wing talk radio talkers who have been urging the GOP to fight this battle, with ample scoffing at anyone who balks as a squishy establishment “RINO” who secretly likes Obamacare. This sort of name-calling does not persuade us, as we are quite rock-ribbed in our Republicanism, instinctively anti-establishment by temperament, and take a back seat to no one in our loathing of Obamacare, and neither does it allay a suspicion that there might be some other way to do away with the law more permanently and with less political risk. There’s a chance the Republicans’ gambit might succeed spectacularly, and we’ll be ardently hoping that it will, but any cocksureness about it will only increase the chances it could prove a debacle.
After the Republican-controlled House passes a budget without funding for Obamacare it will surely be voted down in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even in the highly unlikely event that the Senate went along the resulting bill would surely be voted by the president, so the resulting lack of a budget or continuing resolution or some other legislative sleight-of-hand would shut down much of the government for a prolonged period. Democrats cannot abandon Obamacare without admitting they were wrong, a fate far worse than anything the stupid law will wind up inflicting on the country, and they will not fear the public relations consequences of a government shutdown. This is fine by the flame-throwing conservatives who are insisting on this strategy, and it would be no bother and a nice respite from bureaucratic busybodies to us, but with crucial mid-term elections looming in the next year it is important to consider what the apolitical majority of the country might think. A partial government shutdown would only affect the average American to whatever extent the executive branch chooses, as the de-funding faction rightly argues, but somebody is bound to be inconvenienced and it is a sure bet that major media outlets will quickly interview them for a heartbreaking feature story. The stories will be bogged down with lots of blather about mandatory spending and parliamentary procedure and official government statistics, so millions of Americans will simply take note of the headline about evil Republicans sowing anarchy to punish the poor.
None of the numerous past government shutdowns have been the electoral disaster for Republicans that popular myth suggests, as the de-funders rightly argue, but neither have they ever proved popular. Former House Speaker and government shut-down enthusiast Newt Gingrich kept citing all the election results from his time with the gavel when running for president last time around, but he was forced to do so because so many people still remember him as the mean ol’ bastard who wanted to cut government spending while President Bill Clinton is still remembered as the economic genius who somehow delivered a balanced budget. The major news outlets aren’t as major as they were back then, and conservative media have since built up a large choir to preach to, but it is still too soon to dismiss the opinion-making power of the opposition.
This time could be different, the de-funders argue, and there are tempting reasons to believe they are right. Obamacare is hugely unpopular and becoming more unpopular as it creeps into effect, with important Democratic constituencies such as the labor unions now among the critics, and even the most partisan reporters will find it hard to explain a government shutdown without mentioning that it has something to do with the law. The law’s eponymous president is also unpopular, and comes across as churlish and defensive and disconnected from economic reality every time he speaks in defense of it, so even the unloved Republicans will have something close to equal standing with the standing with the public. Those Republicans will have the better argument, too, although that rarely matters in a war for public approval.
Still, there’s something in our rock-ribbed Republican souls that would prefer a more cautious — and dare we say conservative — approach. Obamacare has become more unpopular with every step of its haphazard and politically-motivated implementation, and it seems likely that full implementation would result in complete unpopularity, so letting the damn thing happen to point that everyone’s nose can be rubbed in it would make a complete repeal and utter repudiation possible. This course would do damage to the health care system, allow millions of Americans to start relying on subsidies they will be reluctant to relent, and incur other undeniable risks, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a policy right. The people getting the subsidies will be out-numbered by those paying for them, at least in the beginning, and the former category is far less likely to vote than the latter, so opposition to Obamacare will be a good issue for Republicans in both the ’14 and ’16 elections. Should Obamacare be somehow stopped before its full implementation the Democrats will spend the rest of our lives waxing poetic about the glorious utopia that might have been, enough of the public will believe it to keep the dream alive, and a rare chance to definitively disprove the nonsense will be lost. This strategy would displease much of the Republican party’s increasingly restive base, many of whom have a distressing tendency to sit out elections even if it means empowering the craziest sorts of Democrats, but at least it would not provide any headlines that would disturb the slumber of the apolitical majority.
The Republicans in Congress have decided to spurn our wise counsel, however, and once they are set on their course we can only hope they will pursue to a satisfactory conclusion. Obamacare must be done away with, one way or another, and if this one works we will be glad of it. Winning the day will require a party unity that we are quite willing to uphold, and plenty of media savvy that we cannot provide, so we will endure our nervousness. We recommend plenty of what the pols call “message discipline,” and can count on the right-wing talk radio talkers for that. The Republicans’ congressional leadership already seems to have distilled this complicated matter down to a “Tweet”-sized message that Obama is willing to shut down the federal government for his hated Obamacare law, which is a fair and compelling summation, and despite our misgivings about the strategy we will try to help it along.

— Bud Norman

The Good News is Killing Us

On Wednesday the experts at the Federal Reserve once again reported that the  economy is not at all well, something plainly obvious to all the non-experts who have given up all hope of finding a job, and the stock markets celebrated with yet another record-setting close. In the convoluted world we now live in, bad news is good news.
The bad news that the economy is sputtering and will likely continue to do so is good news for the stock markets, because it means that the Fed will continue to flood the economy with newly-printed dollars that have nowhere to go in our low-interest world except Wall Street. That record number of former workers now resigned to long-term idleness is good news, too, as they’re no longer counted among the unemployed and thus unemployment rate is falling. Should the bad news ever get so good that economy comes grinding to a complete halt that will also be good news, as America’s carbon emissions will also come to an end and we’ll all be saved from global warming, although the stock market might see that differently no matter how many dollars are printed onto recycled paper.
Those of a more glum disposition might think that the good news about an over-inflated stock market is actually bad news, or will be when the Fed is at long last forced by economic reality to stop printing money and the bubble is inevitably popped, and that a 7.3 percent unemployment rate is insufficient compensation for the lowest work force participation rate in decades, but that is why they aren’t editors or producers at the big news media outlets. The cheerier sorts of people who do get those jobs are content to report a record closing at the stock market and a declining unemployment, then move on quickly to the latest murder spree or celebrity divorce. Much of the public is therefore unaware of what the Federal Reserve is or what it’s been up to or what the consequences might ultimately be, and we’ve doubt they’re cheerier yet.
Many of the public officials who have to worry about this stuff as a requirement of their jobs are more concerned with other matters, judging by the debate about who will be the new boss at the Fed. Current Chairman Ben Bernanke is coming to the end of legally-limited term, during which he has been so obliging to the stock markets, and some of the Senators who will be voting on his successor seem more interested in the applicants’ race and gender than their monetary theories. President Barack Obama had hoped to appoint former Treasury Secretary, White House economic advisor, president of Harvard, and lifelong white male Larry Summers to the post, but so many Democrats objected to Summers’ past friendliness to business and his white maleness that he politely declined to be considered.
One of the leading foes was Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the fake Indian and bona-fide left-wing nutcase, who was serving on the Harvard faculty during Summers’ presidency there and apparently developed a personal dislike for him. Much has been made about Obama’s inability to get a high-level appointment past his own party, with some seeing it as another encouraging indication of his weakened political standing, but even the shrewdest politician would find it difficult to placate a personally offended Ivy League professor.
There are good reasons that Larry Summers shouldn’t be the Fed chairman, but his whiteness, maleness, and insufficient anti-capitalism are not among them. The poor fellow has a strange record of being fired for the wrong reasons, though, and was pushed out of his post at Harvard by the likes of Warren not because he had badly mismanaged the school’s finances but because he quite reasonably stated that the Harvard math faculty was mostly male for reasons other than sexism. This is how positions of responsibility are now filled and vacated, though, and it looks likely the next several years of monetary policy will be determined by the same sort of silly identity politics.
The two most likely candidates are now Janet Yellen, currently a vice chairman of the Fed but invariably described as someone “who could become the Fed’s first woman chairman,” and Roger Ferguson, a former Obama advisor who is invariably described as someone “who could become the Fed’s first black chairman.” There are no doubt good reasons that either should Fed chairman, even if that “former Obama advisor” line on Ferguson’s resume is distressing, but their femaleness are blackness are not relevant qualifications any more than another candidate’s maleness or whiteness would be. Any applicant who is invariably described as “most likely to keep the foot on the pedal even after the car has gone flying over the cliff” would be the clear frontrunner for the gig, and you’ll want to be in the market on the day that good news is announced.

— Bud Norman

A Cautious Look at the Polls

Unaccustomed as we are to being in the majority of opinion about almost anything, it gives us an almost giddy feeling of being in with the “in crowd” to read the latest polling numbers on Obamacare.
The law has been widely dislike since it was passed, but now a clear majority of the public shares our disdain of it, a substantial plurality hates it with something like our own red-hot passion, and the ill feelings seem to be growing. In two recent polls by well-regarded pollsters Obamacare has reached record levels of unpopularity, and both provided reasons to believe that the law’s numbers will worsen. A surprisingly large number of the respondents who still favor the law are frank enough to admit that they are blissfully ignorant of its effects on their lives, and when the news arrives in the form of a higher bill or a the loss of a long-held and well-regarded policy or a stiff penalty for remaining uninsured they will quickly join the disapproving bandwagon. Throw in the recent dissatisfaction of many of he law’s former champions in the labor movement, academia, and the “arts community,” as well as the fact that the declining numbers are in spite of a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign and a constant outpouring of the president’s supposedly irresistible rhetoric, and Obamacare’s opponents can be forgiven a cocky feeling about ultimately doing away with the damned thing.
That won’t happen until Obamacare’s eponymous president is out of office, even longer if another member of his party succeeds him, perhaps never if the government can get enough people signed up for the law’s generous subsidies and somehow keep them blissfully ignorant of its true costs, and in the meantime there’s plenty of opportunity for the opposition to blow it. Yet another budget-ceiling debate will soon dominate the national news conversation, and some daring Republicans in Congress are threatening to make funding for Obamacare the decisive issue of that already contentious debate even if it means a shutdown of the government for a prolonged period. They’ll be heartened by another recent poll which reports that an oh-so-slight majority of 51 percent wouldn’t mind doing without the federal government for even a prolonged period if it would rid them of Obamacare, and perhaps even beyond that, but we hope they’ll proceed cautiously.
The poll is by the Rasmussen organization, which is widely decried as a Republican outfit, even if their final numbers are usually close to the election results and any bias they have seems to be with the “establishment” Republicans who are cowering from a fight over Obamacare, but we expect it to be widely cited by those itching for an all-or-nothing fight over the law. We wish these daredevils well, of course, and would be pleased by a federal government shutdown for almost any old reason, but nonetheless there is a nagging worry that they should go about their business cautiously. Public opinion is fickle, as countless former pop sensations will testify, and there is depressing precedent for the notion that it will buy almost everything. Without weighing in definitively on the cut-Obamacare-or-fight debate currently being waged on the right, we’ll confess to a nagging worry that it might be best to let those blissfully ignorant folk find out just how bad it can be.

— Bud Norman

Chest-thumping and Finger-pointing

The President of the United States was in a noticeably sour mood on Monday, which is understandable. Things have been going so badly for him lately that even the journalists he took time to address have been noticing, what with his failure to whip up any enthusiasm for so much as an “unbelievably small” missile strike on Syria and the economy still sputtering along and much of the public beginning to figure that his signature Obamacare is a boondoggle, and as he took the stage he was even being upstaged by the mass murder occurring at a nearby naval facility. The surly speech he proceeded to snarl out despite the distraction, alas, is not likely to help with any of it.
After a brief acknowledgement of “the tragedy that’s unfolding not far away” the president even more briefly addressed the recent events regarding Syria, but his heart didn’t seem to be in either subject. His reference to “yet another mass shooting” hinted at yet another round of efforts to enact more pointless gun control laws, but he’s clearly not enthusiastic about it after his last attempt suffered a humiliating legislative defeat, and we suspect he was being cautious as it wasn’t even yet known if the shootings could be plausibly blamed on the Tea Party. He’d already given a network television interview over the weekend that tried to portray his capitulation to his gleeful Russian tormentors on the Syrian issue as a diplomatic masterstroke, and was thus content to humbly explain that his agreement to outsource the problem to Vladimir Putin was “an important step” that might someday eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons “if implemented properly.”
With all that out of the way the president then spent the next several minutes boasting about the fine job he’s done on the economy, which no doubt came as a surprise to any people with personal experience of it. He noted that the unemployment rate has fallen without mentioning that it’s mostly because a record number of Americans have stopped looking for work and are not longer counted in the statistics, boasted of record production of natural gas as if he hasn’t been an impediment to it, gloated of the record amount of renewable energy being produced as if it’s even a negligible portion of the energy being consumed, and touted the “investments” made in new technologies without conceding how many of them have ended in bankruptcy. Space and reader interest will now allow a full refutation of the rosy scenario proffered by the president, but suffice to say that a far greater portion of the speech was devoted to assigning blame for the lousy state of the economy.
The culprit, unsurprisingly enough, are the Republicans. “The problem is, at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to growth the economy and build the middle class,” the president said, adding with characteristic snark that “I say ‘at the moment’ because I am still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.” He explained that the Republicans are only interested in cutting funding for education, scientific research, and infrastructure, which have apparently replaced poor people and old folks as the things conservatives hate most, and that any cuts to these sacred projects would result in economic calamity. He then scoffed at concerns about the deficit, proudly and dubiously claiming that he would soon halve the deficits that he had indisputably doubled in each of his first four years in office, and seemed to suggest that the budget cuts forced on him by Congress had nothing to do with it. Indeed, the president insisted that the “sequester” cuts that he once proposed and now blames on the Republicans are responsible for almost all of the nation’s economic ills. “That’s the opinion of independent economists, too,” he added, without mentioning any by name. If the Republicans don’t agree and persist in seeking any budget cuts they pry out of the president, he added, it’s because they don’t want people to have jobs.
“Congress’ most fundamental job is passing a budget,” the president said, and with such a straight face that he might not even be aware that the Congress went his entire first term without doing so because the Democrats were loathe to go on the record as supporting the president’s unprecedented spending. Although the president wasn’t so insistent on the Congress doing its most fundamental job at that time, he’s now downright strict about it because he wants a budget that includes full funding for his Obamacare law and is eager to blame the Republicans for anything that happens without one. “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants,” the president sniffed, even though the relatively few Republicans threatening to de-fund Obamacare say they’ll offer a budget with almost everything the president wants except that, and he seemed genuinely annoyed by the dissent.
The president obviously takes Obamacare personally, and given the law’s increasing unpopularity with the public it is not surprising the topic makes him so very testy. He continues to insist that the law will cause everyone’s insurance premium rates to go down and won’t hinder job growth and will fully insure the nation, even though none of those promises are actually coming true, and he continues to insist that it’s a malicious myth that it causing increases and will include health care rationing or cause employers to offer only part-time jobs so as to avoid its costly mandates, even though all of those things are actually happening. All the part-time employees who are paying higher health insurance bills and hoping that grandma won’t be told by the government to take a pill rather than get a life-extending operation might not persuaded by the president’s huffiness.
The last of the president’s true believers might be heartened by his pugnacious oratory, and cheer on his denunciations of those rascal Republicans, but anyone who doubts that higher taxes and more regulations and endless borrowing are the basis of prosperity is less likely to be persuaded.

— Bud Norman